Thursday, July 26, 2012

10 Leadership Lessons From the Penn State Scandal

by Tim Kight

1. Great Leadership is Rare & Valuable.
Leadership is not a difference maker. It is the difference maker. The decisions and actions of leaders have a profound impact on the organization, it's people, and it's customers. For decades to come, Penn State will be defined not by what Jerry Sandusky did, but by what Penn State leaders failed to do. For leaders everywhere, the question is not, "Will you make a difference?" The real question is "What difference will you make?"

2. Culture is The Single Most Powerful Force in an Organization.
Culture is what leads when no one is watching. More than strategy or chain-of-command, culture is the driving force behind how and why people in an organization behave the way they do. And culture is extremely difficult to change. Culture is defined as: the thoughts and beliefs that drive behavior, and the experience people have working in an organization. It is now evident that a very dangerous culture existed at Penn State. It was a culture of adoration, idolization, protection, and minimal accountability. This culture ultimately drove, and continues to drive, the behavior of the PSU leaders, employees, and the community. What behaviors does your culture promote? What behaviors does your culture reject? Productive behaviors cannot exist in a culture that doesn't support them. If you permit it, you promote it.

3. Leaders Create the Culture That Drives the Behavior that Produces Results.
Everything leaders do builds culture. Through their decisions and actions (or inaction), leaders are the trigger on The Performance Pathway: Leaders - Culture - Behavior - Results. The reason the Penn State culture existed was because leaders allowed it to exist, either by default or by design. Once leaders allowed it, people bought into it and it became nearly intractable. Make sure the culture you create drives behavior that helps people act with integrity AND execute the strategy. Culture is an every day battle. Ignore it at your own risk.

4. Pay Attention to Defining Moments.
Some situations matter more than others. The more difficult the situation, the more important your response. Responding effectively to smaller, less critical challenges does not make up for failing to act with intention and integrity when it matters most. This entire scandal was a textbook opportunity for PSU leaders to take ownership of a Defining Moment in Penn State's history. Instead, they cowered from their duties in spectacular fashion. Not just in response to one Defining Moment, but in response to dozens of Defining Moments over a 14-year period. Culture is built in Defining Moments. When Defining Moments occur in your life or work - and they will - have the courage to respond with intention and integrity.

5. Circumstances Don't Make or Break You. They Reveal You.
Extensive research shows that people do not rise to the occasion. When things are at their worst or most difficult, people do not tend to respond heroically. Rather, they revert to learned behavior. They revert to what they know, their habits. The real culture of Penn State, and the real character of its leaders, was revealed in the way they responded to the Sandusky situation. Do not wait until you are in the midst of a crisis to search for courage, because there is a good chance you won't find it. Build it before you need it. Develop the habit of acting in alignment with a clear and consistent value system. Then, when crisis arises you will have a reservoir of courage to guide you.

6. Trust is Slowly Built and Quickly Broken.
Deep trust takes time to build and is earned through repeated positive experience. Unfortunately, just one act can destroy years, even decades, of trust. In PSU's case it had built a brand of "Success with Honor." Perhaps no university had a more trusted brand in the history of intercollegiate athletics. But the PSU brand became bigger than the principles upon which it claimed to be built, and the house of cards came crashing down almost overnight. One dishonest act, especially during a Defining Moment, will often wipe out years of otherwise trustworthy experiences. There is not a 1-to-1 ratio of negative-to-positive. This is the nature of trust.

7. Everyone Must Be Held Accountable.
Accountability is about two things: paying attention + taking action. Holding people accountable means paying attention to what they do and how they do it, then taking appropriate action. Somewhere along the line the leaders at Penn State lost control of accountability within the university and the football program. They turned a blind eye to critical events and failed to take appropriate action. Further, certain leaders hid behind the false image of integrity and were therefore immune from any form of accountability. This resulted in failure when it mattered most. Accountability in the little things is important because it is practice for the big things. Hold yourself accountable first, and hold others accountable second.

8. Leadership is Not Power Derived from Status or Position.
People often confuse leadership with positional authority. But real leadership is about the person, not the position. Leadership is the courage to act when the situation calls for it, irrespective of your title or place on the org chart. There were people at Penn State other than the positional leaders who could have acted. But they lacked the courage to challenge the authority of other so-called "leaders." Interestingly, the people who ultimately took the action that resulted in Jerry Sandusky's arrest were a gym teacher and a soccer mom. People with far less status and power than the executives and head football coach at PSU. Wherever you are and whatever you are involved in, do not wait to lead. Lead now.

9. The Minimum Requirement is Not Enough.
Champions do it differently. Greatness comes from going beyond what others are willing to do. Those who strive for excellence both personally and professionally understand this. A common refrain from the Penn State situation is that leaders "did what was required of them by the law." While this can be debated according to legal interpretation, it fails the common sense interpretation, and it fails disastrously according to the greatness interpretation. Mere compliance is insufficient. You must make a difference. You must have an impact that results in positive, productive change. The path of minimum requirement leads to mediocrity at best and negligence at worst.

10. Do Not Equate the Delay of Consequences with the Absence of Them.
Problems do not get better if you ignore them or cover them up. The longer you allow a problem to exist, the worse it becomes and the more severe the consequences. If PSU leaders had dealt with this immediately in 1998 or again in 2001, they could have saved dozens of children as well as their university & football program. It would have been difficult and embarrassing, but not nearly as much as their current situation. Are you ignoring problems in your life or work, hoping they’ll just go away? Are you failing to deal with something important? Take ownership of it now before it’s too late.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867

No event in American history matches the drama of emancipation. More than a century later, it continues to stir the deepest emotions, and properly so. In the United States, emancipation accompanied the defeat of the world's most powerful slaveholding class and freed a larger number of slaves than did the end of slavery in all other New World societies combined. Clothed in the rhetoric of biblical prophecy and national destiny and born of a bloody civil war, it accomplished a profound social revolution.

The Freedmen and Southern Society Project was established in 1976 to capture the essence of that revolution by depicting the drama of emancipation in the words of the participants: liberated slaves and defeated slaveholders, soldiers and civilians, common folk and the elite, Northerners and Southerners.

What’s in Your Blood?

Cholesterol isn’t the crystal ball it’s been made out to be, says a recent study in the International Journal of Cardiology. Rather, triglyceride levels may be the best predictor of hearth-disease risk in young, healthy men.

Researchers analyzed 2,500 people’s blood samples, then tracked their health for the next 13 years. Men with high triglycerides were nearly 1.5 times more likely to develop heart disease than those with low levels, regardless of their cholesterol scores. “Triglycerides gauge the number of small, dense LDL particles in the blood, which are readily absorbed by the arterial walls,” says lead study author Altan Onat, M.D. If your triglycerides are above 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl), hit the gym; lifting weights 3 days a week can lower triglycerides by 20 percent.

Men’s Health June 2012

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Grilled corn on the cob with cilantro queso freco butter

From Mark Fischer, here's a combo that's especially good with ribs. Offer any leftover butter to spread on warm bread.

6 ears corn on the cob in husks
about 1/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup queso fresco (Mexican-style fresh cheese)*
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. lime zest
2/3 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

1. Remove silks from corn but leave husks intact. Put corn in a large bowl with 1/4 cup salt and water to cover. Soak about 1 hour.

2. Heat a grill to medium-high (350° to 450°).

Meanwhile, whirl queso fresco, butter, mayonnaise, and lime zest in a food processor until fairly smooth. Add cilantro and pulse to blend. Spread half the butter mixture on a plate and spoon the rest into a small bowl.

3. Grill corn, covered, turning occasionally, until tender (peel back husks to check), 10 to 15 minutes. Peel back husks from cobs and tie with a strip of husk. Roll cobs in butter mixture on plate to coat (use a flexible spatula to help), then set on a platter. Serve with remaining butter and more salt to add to taste.

*find queso fresco at well-stocked grocery stores and Latino markets.

Cook 30 minutes
Prep 1 hour to soak corn
Serves 6
Per serving, using half of Butter mixture 144 cal., 48% (69 cal.) from fat; 4 g protein; 7.7 g fat (3.5 c sat.); 18 g carbo (1.9 g fiber); 459 mg sodium; 15 mg chol.

Outstanding Sopranos – LATONIA MOORE

There are so few sopranos who seem able to lay claim to the Italian repertoire that there is bound to be plenty of excitement when one breaks through. That happened on March 3 of this year, when Latonia Moore made an unexpected debut at the Metropolitan Opera, filling in for an indisposed Violeta Urmana in the title role of Aida. Moore has a gleaming spinto sound, with thrilling cut, a wide range of vocal colors and a stunning pianissimo. She first attracted major attention in Opera Orchestra of New York's 2008 presentation of Puccini's Edgar, with a beautiful performance of Fidelia's aria, ''Addio, mio dolce amor," stealing thunder from her celebrated costars Marcello Giordani and Jennifer Larmore.

Moore is a born stage performer: she knows how to swell a note, how to caress a phrase, how to take her time. At a recital at New York's Weill Hall in 2007, she made the bold choice to open with Tatiana's letter scene from Eugene Onegin, and by the time she ended with "0 mio babbino caro," the audience was under her spell. "My singer friends and I talk a lot about the need to encourage everyone younger than us to stay in the business and keep going," she says. "I love what I'm doing, and I'm going to do it till I drop. I think some of today's stars are becoming very complacent -thinking about their technique instead of immersing themselves in the opera. That irritates me no end."

With major debuts coming up at the opera companies of San Diego, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Cincinnati, it looks as if Moore will have her chance and then some.

Opera News, August 2012


DENYCE GRAVES makes her company debut at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis next summer with Champion, a new opera by composer Terence Blanchard and playwright Michael Cristofer. The work relates the struggles of boxing great Emile Griffith, who accidentally killed an opponent in the ring and later came out as bisexual. Aubrey Allicock and Arthur Woodley portray the younger and elder versions of Emile, and Graves plays the fighter's mother.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Herbed Shrimp and White Bean Salad

4 teaspoons sherry vinegar
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups loosely packed arugula
1 cup trimmed watercress
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1.4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 (15.5-ounce) can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon water
24 peeled and deveined medium shrimp (about 1 pound)
¼ teaspoon salt
Cooking spray

1. Combine first 6 ingredients in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Add arugula and next 4 ingredients (through beans) to bowl, and toss gently to coat.

2. Combine honey and 1 teaspoon water in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add shrimp to honey mixture; toss to coat. Heat grill pan over medium-high hear; coat pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle shrimp with salt. Add shrimp to pan; cook 2 minutes on each side or until done. Serve with salad.

Prep 16 minutes; Cook 4 minutes

Serves 4 (serving size: 6 shrimp and about 1 cup arugula mixture)

276 calories; 6.7g fat, (sat 1g, mono 3.6g, poly 1.3g); 30g protein, 23.3g carb; 5.5g fiber; 172mb Chol; 4.7 Iron; 581mg Sodium; 147mg Calc

Friday, July 20, 2012

Grilled Chicken & Peaches with Green Beans & Orzo

8oz. dried orzo (1 1/3 cups)
8oz. green beans, trimmed (about 2 1/2 cups)
1lb. chicken tenders
2 peaches, cut in wedges
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4oz. herb-flavored feta cheese (garlic and herb or peppercorn), crumbled Fresh thyme (optional)

1. In large saucepan or Dutch oven cook orzo according to package directions. Add green beans during last 5 minutes of cooking time. Drain; do not rinse.

2. Meanwhile, lightly brush chicken and peaches with some of the oil; season with salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat for 4 to 6 minutes, until no pink remains in chicken and peaches are tender and grill-marked.

3. In large bowl combine orzo, beans, grilled chicken and peaches (chopped, if desired), and feta. Drizzle with remaining olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with thyme, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Start to Finish - 30 minutes
Budget $3.29 per serving
EACH SERVING 526 cal, 17 g fat, 93 mg chol, 604 mg sodium, 55 g carb, 5 g fiber, 38 g pro.

Fraternity Tip #9

Idea guys are the lifeblood of any organization. They are the innovators and inspiration of the brotherhood. All too often though I have witnessed brothers with fantastic ideas, but they don't want to share them because they want to make sure they get the credit for implementing them.

This is the worst possible attitude. If you really believe what fraternity is about, then you want the fraternity to improve and you don't care who gets the credit. However, you must also realize that you will get recognized for your creativity. Your brothers will know where the great idea came from, and this will elevate your status in the chapter.

So don't hold onto the great ideas that can take your chapter to the next level. Share them with your brothers and work together to make them a reality. Your fraternity experience will be richer if you do.

 The Fraternity Advisor

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Day at the Getty

Barbara and I spent Sunday afternoon at the Getty Museum here in LA. We arrived early (which I highly recommend) and toured four featured exhibits: “Gustav Klimt: The Magic of Line”, Heaven, Hell, and Dying Well: Images of Death in the Middle Ages”, Drama and Devotion: Heemskerck's "Ecce Homo" Altarpiece from Warsaw(I proudly explained the definition of triptych—a three-part panel painting with a central scene flanked by two hinged wings that fold shut; the interior scenes were visible on important liturgical feast days, when the altarpiece was opened, doubling in size and magnificence), and the most enjoyable exhibit – “Herb Ritts, LA Style” – which we thoroughly enjoyed.

We loved the view and architecture of the Getty but the restaurant had a 30+ minute wait, so we opted for the café which was like eating at the airport: limited choices all overpriced.

The Central Garden is the unexpected treat at the Getty. The Central Garden, created by renowned artist Robert Irwin, lies at the heart of the Getty Center. The 134,000-square-foot design features a natural ravine and tree-lined walkway that leads the visitor through an extraordinary experience of sights, sounds, and scents. You’ll have to visit the Garden to fully appreciate the experience. 

The Museum is free, but parking is $15. Arrive early, otherwise parking may be limited and the wait for the tram will remind you of Disney.

Dionysius the Areopagite Converting the Pagan Philosophers, 1570 Artist: Antoine Caron, French, 1521-1599
Oil on panel
When Saint Paul was in Athens preaching on the hill of the Areopagus., Dionysius heard him speak and became a Christian. The artist depicted Dionysius converting pagan philosophers in Athens, telling them of his vision of the eclipse of the sun that occurred at Christ’s Crucifixion.

Female Figure (Possibly Venus), 1571-73 Artist: Giambologna, Flemish, active in Italy, 1529-1608
Bathing as she sits on a low column, this woman may represent Venus (Roman goddess of live). Typical of Giambologna’s work, the figure is conceived in an elegant spiraling pose, inviting the viewer to see the sculpture from multiple angles. Smooth expanses of marble flesh contract with the detailed depiction of the wavy and braided hair, an armband, and crumpled drapery.
Adolf Hitler, Nuremberg, September 1934
Artist: Paul Wolff, German, 1887-1952
Gelatin silver print
By the time this photograph of Hitler (1889-1945) was made, he had become the absolute dictator of Germany. Like Napoleon I and Benito Mussolini, Hitler understood the power of appearances to help shape his political destiny. In 1943 he stated, “Imagine me going around with a potbelly? It would mean political ruin.” This over the shoulder snapshot by Wolff is particularly effective in conveying the raw power of Hitler’s menacing stare.

Portrait of Marilyn Monroe as Chairman Mao, 1952
Artist: Philippe Halsman, American, 1906-1989. Salvador Dali, Spanish, 1904-1989
Gelatin silver print collage
What would you get if you crossed Chairman Mao Zedong (1893-1976), the leader of Communist China, with Marilyn Monroe (1936-1962), the American movie star and sex symbol? The idea for such a portrait was hatched by the Surrealist painter Salvador Dali and adroitly executed by Halsman. The clash of Eastern and Western cultural icons is both humorous and unsettling. Dali used Halsman’s image when he was invited to create cover art for Vogue magazine in 1972.

Jazz – Billie Holiday, 1954 Artist: Lisette Model, American, 1901-1983
Gelatin silver print
A jazz legend, Billie Holiday (1915-1959) had battled addiction, abuse, and racism when this photograph was taken. In 1952 Model embarked on a long-term book project about jazz musicians. Though the book was never realized, she photographed Holiday multiple times with the project in mind. Shown here silhouetted and positioned at the microphone, Holiday appears poised and contemplative in spite of the misfortunes and health issues that plagued her at the time.

Prince Edward and Mrs. Simpson, 1934
Artist: Vincenzo Laviosa, Italian, 1889-1935
Gelatin silver print
Opposed by the monarch and condemned by the Church of England, the affair between Prince Edward (1894-1972) and American divorcee Wallis Simpson (1896-1986) scandalized Britain in the 1930s. This portrait shows the couple before Edward’s brief reign as King Edward VIII. Edward abdicated his throne in 1936 to marry Simpson, and they assumed the titles Duke and Duchess of Windsor. In this portrait, their faces express the determination that would facilitate their unorthodox decision.

Joe Louis – “The Brown Bomber”, February 1935
Artist: Coy Watson, Jr., American, 1912-2009
Gelatin silver print
Covering news and events in Los Angeles, photographer Watson captured boxer Joe Louis (1914-1981) training at Main Street Gym for a fight with Lee Ramage. Louis won the fight by TKO (technical knockout) in two rounds. Two years later, Louis became the world heavyweight champion, a title he held until 1949, longer than any boxer in history. Louis was among the first African American athletes to be considered a national hero.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Boiled-in-the-Husk Corn on the Cob

"Straight from the garden, corn is so close to perfection that I don’t do much more than just buff up what’s already there,” Scott Peacock says. One simple way to “buff up” fresh corn, is including boiling it in the husks, a technique that protects the just-picked flavor. Boiling in the husks keeps the flavor in the kernels and protects the corn from overcooking. Serving the ears still in the husks adds a little bit of drama to the meal, too.

30 min Prep, 10 min Cook

1. Prepare Flavored Butter. Peel husks from tip of each cob to base, but do not detach from the cob. Remove and discard any damaged or discolored outer husks. Thoroughly remove all silks from each ear of corn (a nubby kitchen towel rubbed briskly between rows of kernels makes easy work of this). Pull husks back up over the corn and tie ends with strips of husks or 100% kitchen string.

2. In large kettle, bring 6 quarts water to boiling and add 3 Tbsp. kosher salt. Add corn. Cook 10 minutes. Using tongs, remove corn and let drain briefly. Serve with Flavored Butter.

Flavored Butter – In small bowl stir together 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened, ½ tsp. sea salt or kosher salt, 2 tsp. crushed Aleppo pepper, and 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper. Cover and allow to stand at room temperature 3 hours to allow flavors to meld or refrigerate up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving. Scott prefers Maldon sea salt, which is available at specialty food and grocery stores, or online at

Outstanding Soprano – MICHELLE JOHNSON

Outstanding Soprano – MICHELLE JOHNSON
Glimmerglass Festival: Aida

Michelle Johnson's impressive lirico-spinto voice is most familiar to those operagoers who frequent the competition circuit: in 2011 alone, Johnson was a top prizewinner in the William Matheus Sullivan Foundation, Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition and the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. But she's about to step out in a highly exposed way. This July and August, she takes on the title role of Aida in a new production at the Glimmerglass Festival, staged by Glimmerglass's artistic and general director, Francesca Zambello.

At Glimmerglass, Johnson will become the latest in a long line of gifted African-American sopranos to sing Verdi's Ethiopian princess. Clearly, Zambello doesn't want this to be just another generic Aida: an African-American tenor, Noah Stewart, has been cast as Radames, and on the podium is someone who should be well equipped to capture Verdi's "Egyptian" sound Nader Abbassi, artistic director and principal conductor of Cairo Opera.

Zambello heard Johnson singing "Dove sono" in the finals of the National Council Auditions and offered her Aida. The Glimmerglass performances will come just after she winds up her fourth and final year at Philadelphia's Academy of Vocal Arts, where she studies with William Stone. "I thought about it for a couple of months," says Johnson. "1 went out and bought a score and started to pay attention to what was going on. I started off with 'Ritorna vincitor' and got that into my body, and then 1 went to the father-daughter duet. I had to take the time to say, 'Michelle ... are you ready?' No pressure was put on me. I felt that I could say no. I went to my coaches at AVA and my voice teacher, and they all said, 'You're smart. You know what you can handle. If you take your time, we believe that you can do this.' It's not going to be a cakewalk by any means."

Now twenty-nine, Johnson is accustomed to challenges and points out that although the competition circuit may seem far removed from the real world, it really isn't. "It gets tougher as it goes on," she says. "My name is sort of a familiar name in the competition world, so there's always a greater expectation, and it gets more nerve-wracking as you go." She credits the faculty at AVA with helping her become a far more consistent performer, and to develop her middle voice. She wants to keep building her repertoire sensibly and hopes to avoid the trap that has ensnared many other black sopranos. "I hope to not be stuck in Aida. I would like to open the door, do this, let it simmer awhile, and then jump back into it. I don't want to sing this Aida and then sing ten more after this."

by Brian Kellow
Opera News, June 2012

Outstanding Soprano – ELIZABETH FUTRAL

Outstanding Soprano – ELIZABETH FUTRAL
Lincoln Center Festival: Emilie

When you first hear Elizabeth Futral's laugh, you may be fooled by its tripping lightness into thinking she's not really the serious sort. But this summer she'll be portraying a seriously brainy heroine - the eighteenth-century mathematician and physicist Emilie de Breteuil, Marquise du Chatelet, better known in history books as the longtime mistress of Voltaire. For Kaija Saariaho's seventy-five-minute one-woman opera Emilie, with a libretto by longtime Saariaho collaborator Amin Maalouf, Futral will be reprising a role she first sang at Spoleto Festival USA in 2011.

"She is a fantastic woman, it seems to me, but she is also a great character to play," says Futral. "The whole Voltaire relationship was a very important part of her life, and for a long time I think that was what people remembered her for, unfortunately. Gradually people started recognizing her writings and her brain and her contributions to math and science and philosophy, too." Among other accomplishments, Emilie (1706-49) translated and wrote the commentary to Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica, published posthumously in 1759 - still the standard French-language version of that work.

Emilie is broken up into nine movements in the form of the tide character's letters to Voltaire and to Jean Francois de Saint-Lambert, by whom she is pregnant. At forty-two, Emilie is filled with foreboding that she will die giving birth to her daughter. One of the movements ("Enfant"), directed to her unborn child, is a favorite scene for Futral. "The text is really poignant, because she's telling the child that you have to stand up for yourself, and you're a woman, and it's going to be difficult for you, but you've got to believe in what you believe, and don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something - all the struggles that she had had being a woman in her time. It's an interesting reflection on herself, but it's also this tender moment."

Lincoln Center Festival will use the same Marianne Weems production from the Spoleto performances, which Futral describes as "brilliant, with all these geometrically shaped screens hanging down, on which she projected still and moving images, sometimes mathematical equations Emilie was working on. Gradually, as I walked across the stage, there were live candles, and the flame was flickering on the screen as I walked past, giving the idea of a time when there was no electricity." At the end, Emilie heads for the abyss, and there is an "amazing wash of color and fire" as she sings about one of her "big theories about how fire acted and reacted," says Futral. "It looks like she is walking into a wall of fire."

Futral says the challenges of Emilie - being onstage alone for well over an hour in a wide-ranging, musically difficult and dramatic part - are "huge, just staying in the piece and staying focused." But, she says, "In the end it is the most fulfilling and electrifying part I've ever done."

by Jennifer Melick
Opera News, June 2012


Cincinnati Opera: Porgy and Bess

Measha Brueggergosman seems incapable of mincing words. She doesn't do it when alternating the tricky sung and spoken lines of Luciano Berio's frenetic, hyper-allusive multilingual operatic mashup, Recital I (for Cathy), which the soprano has made something of a calling card. Nor does she do it when charting about the nearly 160 pounds she lost several years ago through a combination of gastric bypass surgery and an obsession with Bikram yoga. In conversation, she will jokingly refer to the aortic dissection that very nearly killed her in June 2009, at the age of just thirty-one, as nothing less than the "worst weight-loss program ever." And before an interviewer can even work up the courage or justification for asking, Brueggergosman will casually mention the yearlong separation she underwent from her husband, whom she first met in high school, as well as the painful miscarriage of their twins that has kept her off the stage of late. "If I ever write a memoir," she laughs, "it'll be called This Isn't What I Thought Would Happen." There are open books, and then there's Measha Brueggergosman's disarming candor is just one indication of why the Canadian soprano, who this month makes her return to the opera stage as Bess in Cincinnati Opera's Porgy and Bess, has become a certifiable mainstream celebrity on her native soil as well as perhaps the most engaging, amiable ambassador the spheres of classical voice and opera have seen since Beverly Sills. Brueggergosman's instrument - a gleaming, vernal lyric soprano with an appealing duskiness around its edges and an adaptable vibrato - is a thing of uncommon beauty, seemingly as suited to Mozart's Elertra or Vitellia as to the lyrisme of Satie, the Expressionist flair of a Schoenberg song or the chatty quirkiness of a Bolcom cabaret number. And while the primary focus of her classical career, up to this point, has been high-profile concert and recital performances with top-tier symphony orchestras and ensembles, Brueggergosman's relatively limited involvement with staged opera - which has included roles such as Jenny in Madrid performances of Mahagonny, Sister Rose in Houston Grand Opera's Dead Man Walking and Madame Lidoine in a Vancouver Opera Carmelites - has confirmed her as an engaged singing actress of vivid nobility. Yet it's a sign of just how engrossing, even obsessive a communicator she is that the soprano's professional opportunities have extended beyond the concert and opera stage to different styles and venues, including cabaret gigs in Maritimes pubs, the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics in February 2010 - where she performed the Olympic Hymn to a broadcast audience of more than a billion people - and stints on Canadian reality-TV shows such as Canada's Got Talent, where she presides as a judge.

For Brueggergosman, who began taking voice lessons when she was just seven years old, the multiple facets of her dizzying career aren't so much dissimilar as they are outlets for expression along the continuum of her own interests. ''I'm very respectful of what I think is the evaporating line between who we are as classical artists - and what our industry has traditionally expected of its artists - and the actual world, who, given the chance, given the opportunity or an overture, would absolutely be super on fire for classical music," she remarked last February while chatting by phone from her home in Ottawa during a break in filming for Canada's Got Talent. "We have this growing generation, and it is undeniable that we're influenced by many things, many media outlets besides the classical-music ones. It can just sometimes be very difficult to find an inroad, to approach it with the understanding that this music is for everyone. So we lead by example. People will come to this genre of music if they're given a sense of being welcome."

This month, on the day she turns thirty-five, Brueggergosman will give audiences another inroad when she performs her first Bess in Cincinnati Opera's production of Porgy and Bess. (In September, she'll reprise the role in concert performances with Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker.) Diane Paulus's recent Broadway production of Gershwin's opera revived longstanding questions about whether the inhabitants of Catfish Row amount to living, breathing American archetypes or demeaning racial caricatures concocted by a white southerner and two Jewish brothers from New York. Brueggergosman - perhaps, as a proud Canadian, unencumbered by the weight of America's history of race relations - isn't having any of it. "Well, who cares?" she says, when asked about the work's perceived baggage. "I mean, that's like the conversation you have in the restaurant after the show. I understand why one would ask the question. It's kind of like the whole debate that arose out of The Help, for instance - 'Why isn't this story being told by a black person?' But obviously, from my perspective, I don't care. I think that the music is so strong, and the story - whether [the creators]were black or not – is absolutely essential. And that's not even speaking of the quintessential American soundscape and the innovation and orchestration. I think it's not to downplay a question that should be raised, but we don't ask the same thing with Jenuft. We don't ask the same thing of The Rape of Lucretia. It's like, I'm not going to apply a standard to Porgy and Bess that I don't apply to other repertoire. That just cheapens the work."

If Brueggergosman holds Porgy and Bess in particularly high esteem, she's certainly had time to consider why. Her first onstage assumption of the title role was initially slated for the 2009 Styriarte Festival in Graz, where she would have performed it under the baton of Nikolaus Harnoncourt - "had my aorta not exploded," she laughs. Following nearly a year of recuperation and the subsequent separation and reconciliation with her husband, Brueggergosman opted to clear much of her performance schedule with the intention of starting a family. It somehow seems appropriate, she says, that her first appearance back on the opera stage following her recent challenges will be as Bess. "It's a real blessing for me. This work I know has had a real significance in my life. And of course, I resisted for a long time. I resisted it because I didn't want to be that black soprano singing all the black repertoire all the black time," Brueggergosman says. ''I'm often offered the role of Serena or Bess, because it's essentially the same voice type. But Bess gets to sing, 'Oh, what you want with Bess? She's getting old now.' That line - when I was reading the libretto, I was like, 'I wonder how that's set.' So I went into the score, and that solidified it for me, because that whole scene is the essence of Bess. That struggle - it is so operatic. It's so human. Just as she's getting on her feet, just as she starts to believe in happiness and just as she's reintegrated into the community.... It's heartbreaking. But that's opera. I mean, if it doesn't break your heart, I'm kind of not interested."

Another thing that doesn't interest Brueggergosman – perhaps surprisingly for a classical vocalist who has cultivated such inroads into the popular culture - is what she perceives as the frivolous indecency behind many modern opera productions mounted today. ''I'm a woman of faith. I'm a Christian," says Brueggergosman, whose father and brother are both Baptist pastors. "There are probably operas out there that would make me uncomfortable. If my parents can't come see it, franky, I can't really be a part of it. I'm not against trying something new, but there's just something about the gratuitousness of the novelty of just trying something for trying's sake - that is boring." Mahagonny’s Jenny, on the other hand, which she performed in a striking Fura dels Baus production at the Teatro Real during the fall of 2010, allowed her to "work out a lot of demons," she jokes. The staging, which literally set the city of Mahagonny on top of a garbage heap and had the soprano's Jenny wearing lingerie over a skin-tight body stocking, was "such a fantastic exploration. Jenny is just this horrible, horrible woman - I mean, absolutely manipulative and selfish and egotistical and all of the things I fight against in my own personality. And I got to do an aria on a stripper pole. What?! Totally in my bucket list! The parents did not come and see that."

Brueggergosman says that opera in the U.S. will likely become increasingly important to her career as she and her husband look to start a family and mitigate travel. But there's no indication that she intends to approach the next chapters in her art or her life with any measure of complacency or routine. "It's very much a work in progress, and with some things, there's been a bow on them, and then you move on," she says of her career. "When you start singing at seven with the intention of becoming an opera singer, once you get to twenty-six years later, you are looking for things to do that will round that out. There's no shortage of classical music, but I think it's a testament to this incredible repertoire that after twenty-six years it's still so rich and bottomless, you know? I feel older in this job than the majority of my colleagues just because I started so early. But I am still in it to win it. I quite enjoy it."

by Adam Wasserman
Opera News, June 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Black and Blue

The bruised hilarity of “Louie”

by Emily NussbaumTo his fans, Louis C.K. is more than just an artist. He is Lenny Bruce, he is Bob Dylan-the performer who serves the truth raw, not cooked. It's a reputation that could rankle, if the man didn't pretty much deserve it. If you're not familiar with him, Louis C.K. (short for Szekely) is the country's best standup. With a radical level of productivity (he generates an hour of new material per year, then discards it), Louis has built a confessional act that covers the birth of his kids, his divorce, and his rancorous arrival into middle age-with the odd political leap, like the time he peppered Donald Rumsfeld with questions about whether he and Dick Cheney are "lizards from outer space who eat human flesh."

In 2010, Louis C.K. created the sitcom "Louie" for FX, the show that transformed him-at least for those of us in the church of the sitcom-into a modern saint. It wasn't his first time on television, but over the years he'd become fed up with the sour collaboration of sitcom and late-night-show writers' rooms. In 2006, he created and starred in HBO's "Lucky Louie," a bleak deconstruction of "The Honeymooners," which won praise from critics but was cancelled after one season.

That show led to "Louie," the stripped down half hour he occupies on FX. The channel gave him an unheard-of deal: a tiny budget in exchange for total control, to the point that Louis doesn't even get notes from network executives. For the first two seasons, Louis wrote, directed, edited, and starred in every episode, and was also the music director. The result was a series that, despite its small audience, has had a broad influence, upending notions of what a sitcom can be. (Among other things, it helped inspire Lena Dunham's "Girls.") Like his standup act, Louis's sitcom is melancholic, profane, and hilarious, shifting in tone from week to week. Scored to jazz, the show can be lushly cinematic (Louis's roots are in independent film), then loose and skitlike. There are slow passages, and sequences that lean too hard on self-pity, but there are many more moments of crazy transcendence, plus a fart joke or two. "Louie" takes risks rare for television, including the risk of not being perfect.

Season 1 was good; Season 2 was better. Louis plays a lo-fi version of himself, spending his days drifting through New York, brooding, bingeing on ice cream, slumping in wintry playgrounds, like Charlie Brown with a buried temper. As Season 3 begins, he has begun dating, his daughters are older, and he has some money (enough to buy a motorcycle). But the biggest change has taken place offscreen: Louis hired as editor Susan E. Morse, who has worked for Woody Allen. As impressive as the solo-built TV model is, it's exhausting to maintain-and, perhaps for this reason, the third season of "Louie" is a revelation. It's so good I’m afraid to praise it too highly, for fear you'll be let down.

The new episodes start well, then keep improving, with narrative clarity and a fresh visual beauty. The first one, which aired last Thursday, opened, as the episodes often do, with his standup act. It's a shaggy-dog routine that begins with Louie miming masturbation, then looking down to see that his penis is blurry: he needs reading glasses. Somehow this builds up to a riff about rich men buying new penises. 'I don't mean like a synthetic, kind of transvestite, kind of pink peapod, Frankenstein, grafted-off-your-leg dick," Louie says, laughing, controlling the audience like an orchestra. "I mean: some dead kid's dick. On your body. Like a happy ending to a sad story, on your body."

One scene later, we're in a Manhattan diner, where Louie has none of his onstage swagger: he's silent, repressed, and twitchy. (In the past, the show has sometimes been sentimental about Louie as sad sack, but the new episodes feel smarter and tougher about his state of mind.) Louie's dating April, a girlfriend we haven't met before, and in minutes their relationship dissolves, as she interprets his grimaces like a sooth-sayer. “What is this, a game of relationship charades?” she kvetches. I’ve seen sitcom breakups before, but the rhythms here are very different, helped by a great performance by Gaby Hoffman. There’s a brief shot from outside the window, with a rush of traffic that lets you into Louie’s head. The dialogue is alienating, to the point of discomfort, but funny. Then suddenly, as April actually starts to do this thing – to break up with herself – a guitar swells. Rhythms slow; she looks shocked. There’s a closeup of Louie’s thumb, pressed against an ice-cream spoon. When April leaves, Louie walks outside to fin his car getting crushed by a city vehicle, the hood crumpling under a metal arm – a stunt so obviously expensive for this low-budget series that I gasped. It also felt like a callback to a solid bit from Season 1, in which a water bottle tumbling from a high window crushed a different car.

Later, we get a glimpse of Louie’s ex-wife, Janet, something he had said might never happen. Last season, Louie’s sister described her as “that pasty, big-titted, black-eyed Guinea bitch,” but when she shows up she’s played by a black actress. The show has made playful gambits like this before, casting two actresses as Louie’s mother, adding a niece who was later deleted. The second episode burns into your brain, fuelled by a truly wild guest performance by Melissa Leo. The third episode, which is set in Miami, features a gorgeous, wordless sequence at dusk, as fat bald men like Louie gather to swim once the hard bodies have packed up for the night. That story edges toward something stranger: an affecting meditation on human intimacy.

The fourth episode is also terrific. And then comes the fifth, which is so good that I don’t even want to talk about it, which puts me in an odd position as a critic. (On Twitter, I said the episode was so good “it beat the previous episodes to death.”) So, you know, go watch it. Maybe you won’t like it as much as I did: it happens. I just want you to find it for yourself. We can come back and talk about it later.

New Yorker, July 9 & 16, 2012 issue, page 96.