Cher Public

Battle of Broadway

La Cieca hears that there will be a little quasi-operatic activity on the Great White Way a year hence. Fall 2015 is the target date for an as yet untitled one-woman show based on the life of Kathleen Battle, scheduled to star Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. (And before you ask, no, the playwright is not Terrence McNally!)

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Can’t wait to see how she portrays Levine, Volpe, Rosalind Elias and Carol Vaness.

  • operaassport

    Oh my. I love Lupita, who despite her Oscar can’t get good roles in films, but a life of Kathleen Battle? That could be a hoot or a mess or both.

    • alejandro

      I read she’s starring in the movie adaptation of Americanah, which sounds like a great vehicle for her!

      (but yeah, Lupita should be EVERYWHERE! She’s gorgeous, she’s smart, she can work a dress, but perhaps it’s best Hollywood can’t mess with her too much, since I think she deserves better than being put in stupid rom coms)

      • operaassport

        The reality is that Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with serious black actresses. That’s why talents like Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are doing appalling dreck on TV. It’s a shame.

        • alejandro

          This is true, but Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with much.

          I am not sure how Davis and Spencer’s shows are but TV is a great option for older women (hell Ryan Murphy is singlehandedly keeping Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett, Frances Conroy and Kathy Bates in the public eye thanks to American Horror Story), so it should be a great option for women of color (and Shondra Rimes is a one-woman dynasty who has been able to to much . . . and is giving Davis a vehicle).

          I’d rather Lupita build a career making indie films and doing theater or good television. Being a Hollywood ingenue is a trap and I wouldn’t wish it on any woman.

        • Viola Dsvis’s show is riveting and she plays the most complex character on TV. And in the two weeks, she stole the next Best Actress Emmy. I loved Red Band Society with Spencer but i was apparently the only one as it never found an audience,

    • operainsider

      Well I would normally agree about hollywoods problem casting women and minorities but Lupita turned down two star studded dramas. Southpaw and The Whole Truth. The roles went to Naomie Harris and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She also had to pass on the two person play Constellations with Jake Gyllenhaal that will soon begin on Broadway. That role is now being played by Ruth Wilson. She did this to star in the new Star Wars trilogy with JJ ABRAMS. Smart move in my opinion. She needs a commercial project. She also bought the rights to the best selling book Americanah. Brad Pitt is producing it for her. She will be fine.

      As for her playing Kathleen Battle. I would gladly see that!

  • Will

    They’re going to have to be very careful — given the lady’s history, I can imagine the script being a lightning rod for libel suits.

    • Howling in Tune

      In the United States, at least, truth is an absolute defense against a libel charge.

  • alejandro

    I love Lupita! BRING IT.

    And for all her divatude, I saw Battle in L’Elisir opposite Pavarotti on my first trip to the Met November of 1991. I was an opera neophyte and was humoring my dad (and it was my first trip to New York, so being inside the Met was a treat anyway). I remember her blowing me the hell away (more so than Luciano who I just felt shuffled on and off stage making very little of an impression on my 17 year old self).

    • Grane

      If that’s the one that was televised, I remember thinking Pavarotti looked like a cadaver next to Battle with her lovely rose-brown skin. He got a laugh when he came out all pathetic with the suitcase, as I recall. Too bad she didn’t do more concert work.

      • After her dismissal from the Met, she’s done nothing but concert (and recital) work.

  • alejandro
    • pavel

      “The world’s most luxurious soprano” :-))

      • operaassport

        She sounds like a bath towel!

    • Cicciabella

      So DG’s using the same photos as in her Verdi album booklet. Beautiful pictures, but it screams CD crisis.

  • As a kid, I loved her. Still do, really. Nyong’o is at least pretty enough to portray her. Who will sing during scenes of Battle performing is another matter. One hopes that they use recordings of Battle herself — her voice was too distinctive and too precious to do anything else.

    As for her well-known problems, I am not involved in the opera world, and never have been, but I do actually know someone who had dealings with her in the past. The verdict from this person is that Battle was not necessarily nasty, but just emotionally immature, and severely so. I count what happened to her as a tragedy, even if it is ultimately no one’s fault.

    • Silly me, I didn’t read carefully enough, we’re talking Broadway and not film.

      • operaassport

        Tragedy? The Holocaust was a tragedy. Battle was just a train wreck. She was more than just emotionally insecure. It’s possible she was bi-polar.

        Pardon the pun, but whatever they do I hope her story is not whitewashed and she’s presented as some sort of victim.

        Oh, and Lupita is FAR more beautiful than Battle.

        • pavel

          One definition of a tragedy is “A drama or literary work in which the main character is brought to ruin or suffers extreme sorrow, especially as a consequence of a tragic flaw, moral weakness, or inability to cope with unfavorable circumstances.” A pretty good description of the story of Kathleen Battle.

        • quoth the maven

          The pun? Oh that’s right, she’s black! And you said “whitewashed.” Pretty funny.

        • La marquise de Merteuil

          Operaasport -- thanks for your opinion which has shed alot of light on La Battle’s mental health. I presume you came to this understanding after several years of medical school and arrived at this conjecture after several face-to-face consultations with Battle?

        • I actually agree with OAS that Battle suffered (and, I would imagine, still suffers) from pretty severe mental illness. Which diagnosis, I wouldn’t presume to say. I think it’s a measure of how, as a society, we don’t take mental illness seriously, that Battle’s downfall is often the subject of jokes, to wit:

          It is unimaginable that people would laugh at, say, Jackie du Pré’s MS. Battle’s illness was also tragic.

          • Howling in Tune

            Jacqueline du Pré’s illness didn’t lead her to scream at other people.

            People would be much kinder about Kathleen Battle if she hadn’t inflicted so much unnecessary pain on other people.

            • I think this rather proves my point. Battle’s behavior was a symptom of her illness. I understand the need to let her go under the circumstances, but that people make light of it is an indication that they don’t take mental illness as seriously as other illnesses.

        • Okay, operaassport, you have earned the title of “Chatte de la semaine.” Moderation for you until you can convince me you deserve to comment on parterre again.

  • Constantine A. Papas

    Battle was a great singer. Along the way, she developed an incurable disease that killed her: recurrent primadonnitis!

  • La marquise de Merteuil

    La Battle -- who is a real guilty pleasure of mine -- was the last of the real divas IMO. I would have preferred for the opera houses to indulge her crazy and for her to have had a few more years singing. It reminds me of what Lord Desai said comparing Brown to Blair : Tony Blair was Champagne and caviar, Gordon Brown is more like porridge or haggis. Who do have now who even comes close to her?

  • alejandro

    I just read Taylor Swift may be playing Joni Mitchell in a biopic. It’s killed my buzz about Lupita.

    • Jamie01

      With the Biebs as Graham Nash?

      • Krunoslav

        Let me guess: the **unbearable** Jason Schwartzman as Leonard Cohen?

      • alejandro

        It’s a triple biopic based on a book about Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Carly Simon.

        The obvious choice for Simon is Jessica Pare.

        Alison Pil is apparently doing King, which is odd because she looks NOTHING like her.

  • Krunoslav

    “EEF you haff to cut something, you haff to cut COUNTESS ALMAVIVA’S arias. Not. Mine.”


    “Who do have now who even comes close to her?”

    Lucy Crowe
    Christiane Karg
    Julia Kleiter
    Sandrine Piau
    Sarah Shafer

    Except that they are all less monochrome and do more with non-English words.

    • Feldmarschallin

      BTW Kruno have you seen who will be the Marzelline in the new Scala Fidelio? Our favorite Sophie :)

      She must have a good agent or be good at something else but it is not singing.

      • Krunoslav

        Oh, no! Surely the Milanese loggionisti will let her know what they think of her singing.

        Scala’s postwar Marzellines have included Lisa della Casa, Wilma Lipp, Jeanette Pilou, Lucia Popp, Laura Aikin and Anita Hartig.

        And now the magic of Mojca!

    • steveac10

      “Who do have now who even comes close to her?”

      Not even just now -- the reason Volpe was able to drop the boom is he had her rep covered several times over at the time, especially since her best roles were in operas where another singer got the last bow. The reality is her potential repertoire in a house the size of the Met was always extremely limited. Not just by the size of the voice, but also the coy and mannered stage persona she increasingly affected during her career.

  • tannengrin

    I hope Mark Hampton and/or Mary Louise Wilson are available to write. “Full Gallop” was truly an amazing feat.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    • antikitschychick

      Quanto, what a lovely documentary. I had never seen it before and am enjoying it immensely. Thank you for sharing it :-).

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        I had not seen it either. Only the best for Parterre.

    • La marquise de Merteuil

      My fav clip from this documentary is where she sits on a chair trilling as Marsalis walks in and they burst out laughing. And yes, there are hints of her ‘difficulty’ eg where Nelson tells them to stop rehearsing because neither of them know the Predieri well enough. The deathstare Battle gives him is priceless. And then when Nelson tries to tell her the B section of ‘Si suoni la tromba’ sounds tight and she gives her a small piece of her mind.

      Never having seen her live -- only on video -- I can’t think of a singer -- at that level -- who was that charismatic and infectious. Every word was sung JUST right. At least for me. And yes the top gets ‘white’ in my opinion -- but I don’t care. (Live I’ve seen Bumbry, Domingo, AG, Mattilla, Kaufmann, Voight, G Jones, Netrebko, Alagna, Fleming, et al…)

      Also, Dabrowski makes a valid point about people not taking mental illness seriously. I am no expert beyond having lived with someone with a serious diagnosed mental health condition which deteriorated to the point where I had to leave. But at the time it was interesting to see how many people in my life lacked, not only compassion, but understanding of what we had to deal with.


      • ilpenedelmiocor

        Oh, yeah, I saw this when it was first broadcast. My favorite part is when she asks the conductor for feedback during a break, and when he gives her some, her reply is something like, “I already know that! Tell me something I don’t know!” Yes, ma’am. But then after her vocal coach spends the entire coaching session trying pretty much in vain to get her to look rapturous for “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen,” in keeping with the text, she scowls her way concertedly through the entire final performance. So much for wanting and taking feedback.

        Let me be clear: I worshiped Battle back in the day, bought all of her recordings, taped broadcasts of performances she was in multiple times, and saw her live in recital at least three times. At the last one, she had the dubious distinction of making me uncomfortable for the first and only time in my life in the middle of a recital by her strange behavior — e.g. arguing non-verbally with the accompanist over the tempo of a Lied WHILE SINGING IT, then turning to him during the applause and giving him the bitch smile of death and mouthing “TOO FAST!!” Yikes.

        • Guestoria Unpopularenka

          You’ve only been uncomfortable once in your whole life? I’m in awe.

    • Cicciabella

      I haven’t seen this documentary (hope I find time to do so), but Baroque Duets is one of my favourite albums of all time.

      • Cicciabella

        …that would be Baroque Duet.

      • La marquise de Merteuil

        Cicciabella is there ANYTHING more wonderful than La Battle in Scarlatti’s Il mio tesoro -- THE most romantic aria I know!

        • Cicciabella

          Absolutely, MdM! The interpretation is sweet without being cloying. And such a beautiful, instantly recognisable sound.

  • eric

    It’s a shame that her operatic career self-destructed.

    I always liked her voice, and she had a good stage presence. Too bad she was such a b***h.

  • Salome Where She Danced

    Jonah Hill as James Levine.

    Jeffrey Tambor as Joe Volpe.

    and Dennis O’Hare as The Chauffeur.

  • rofrano

    Battle of Broadway? More like Lullaby of Borderline Personality Disorder.

  • zinka

    Charles Manson as Battle?????????????????????????