Reflections from the Audience


Les Epstein attended thousands of live performances of opera, theater, and concerts. You might say he became a collector of live performances.

What!? How does one collect live performances?

Since 1960, every time he attended a theater, concert hall, or opera house, he wrote a review-his “take” on what he had seen. There are about four thousand reviews in his collection, but fear not, only a very few appear in their entirety. Handwritten with a fountain pen, they are preserved in three-ring binders in his basement. He finds it impossible to explain why he wrote them. He is simply an audience member and, surely, a very dedicated fan of the arts.

About sixty years after writing his first review, a cataclysmic world pandemic occurred. Weighed against its real impact, the loss of life, closing all live performances was a minor casualty that caused him enforced exile from “the audience.” He remembered that he had a trove of “written stuff” downstairs. Maybe he could do something with it. Skimming the reviews, he realized they contained descriptions of now-legendary performances and discussions of performers who a younger generation could not have seen perform. He would write a book!

Definitely not a collection of reviews-the book, however, contains ample quotes-it is a general discussion of performances and performers, some of them world-famous, others less-known; some the author admires greatly, a few, not so much. In some cases he writes about those he never saw in performance, but who left examples of their art on film or in recordings, enabling their evaluation and comparison based on those media.

Among the rare events Les attended and reported on are Richard Burton’s last performance of Hamlet on Broadway (including his curtain speech), Maria Callas’s last two Metropolitan Opera performances, Janis Joplin’s last public performance, Jason Robards in several O’Neill plays, and Meryl Streep’s early New York appearances. You will see and hear iconic performances of such as Ethel Merman, Judy Garland, Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand, Zero Mostel, Patti LuPone, Victor Borge, Tony Bennett, Duke Ellington, and many more. In opera, the author tells you about such luminaries as Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Tito Gobbi, Franco Corelli, Beverly Sills, Sherrill Milnes, and Placido Domingo (describing both his official and unofficial Met debuts). You can hear and see for yourself some of what Les actually heard and saw because in some cases he uses Internet linking to the very performances he attended.

If you don’t follow opera, you may think you have never heard the aria “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot. You have. Six-year-olds have! How about a riff-by-riff comparison of it between Pavarotti and Corelli? Franco Corelli. You say you’ve never heard of Franco Corelli? Or heard him? You have. Hear Corelli and Pavarotti duke it out for the high notes!

What runs through the book is the author’s love for the beauty of the human voice that began for him at five years of age when he first listened to the pop music that is linked and discussed, showing its progression to his opera-think. It’s a book of essays that can be read and enjoyed in just that way-and, when you add the linked performances, it becomes something much more. It becomes a listening guide to your own discoveries about those times and those performers, spending as much time as you want being guided through some amazing performances.

More than 1,000 links.

Over 300 hours of listening and viewing.




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